Last year, I spent a day binge watching the six available episodes of Fleabag, ostensibly conducting research for my masters thesis (something to do with liberal feminism and sexual liberation) and becoming increasingly enthralled in the characters’ lives. So naturally, when I saw that Fleabag the solo show – on which the TV series is based – was coming to Melbourne, I jumped at the chance to attend.
Written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge and performed by Maddie Rice, Fleabag is audacious, vulgar and brutally honest; the kind of performance that has the audience in turns howling in laughter and shifting uncomfortably in their seats. Rice’s character (‘Fleabag’) is an unapologetically dislikeable and deeply flawed sex addict and almost everything she says is somehow controversial – whether it be fat jokes (that admittedly had me shifting uncomfortably in my seat) or anecdotes about drunken hook-ups and dysfunctional relationships.
Underneath the jokes, there’s a dark and compelling narrative – Fleabag may be selfish, self-absorbed and a ‘bad feminist’, but she is also insecure, depressed and lonely. Her best friend is dead (a sort-of suicide), her relationship is broken, her family doesn’t want much to do with her, her guinea pig-themed café is slowly going defunct, and, like many young women, her self-esteem is dictated by whether or not men want to sleep with her – even men who she doesn’t want to sleep with in the first place.
The whole monologue is delivered as Rice sits on a stool in the centre of the stage – she hardly moves off it and she and the stool are the only things on the set. Despite this simplicity, Rice seems to fill the space entirely and the audience quickly forgets that they are watching a woman on a seat – Rice seems to somehow conjure the world she is describing out of the air around her. She is dynamic, acerbically funny and very, very compelling.
I have few gripes with the show (fat jokes, anorexic jokes, and a few others aside), but a major one hit at the very end when, somehow, Fleabag sympathises with a man caught drunkenly groping a co-worker for the second time. ‘That’s why they put erasers on the end of pencils – because we all make mistakes,’ she says. It is a painful thing to hear on a personal level, and especially affronting in the wake of the #metoo movement.
Written by: Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Direction & Dramaturgy: Vicky Jones
Performer: Maddie Rice
Design: Holly Pigott
Sound Design & Composition: Isobel Waller-Bridge
Lighting Design: Elliot Griggs
Beckett Theatre – The Coopers Malthouse
29 March – 22 April 2018
Tickets and more information can be found here.
Photo Credit Richard Davenport.